Special Branch officers are being stationed in universities at risk of being targeted by extremists, the Government has admitted.
A number of institutions have been identified by counter-terrorism officers amid fears students are in danger of being groomed by fanatics.
David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, insisted the threat posed to universities had been exaggerated but admitted that it remained an “extremely serious issue”.
The move comes just weeks after a former student at University College London sparked a major terror investigation when he allegedly attempted to detonate explosives on a flight over the United States on Christmas Day.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was president of the university’s Islamic Society for three years before graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering in June 2009.
UCL – rated as one of the best in the world – has now launched an investigation into his time at the university.
In an interview, Mr Lammy admitted that security had been stepped up at a series of universities, with anti-terrorism officers actively patrolling campuses.
“We have identified universities for whom the risk is greater and they have to work closely with Special Branch, and so I think it is a partnership between leadership at universities and the police,” he said.
Mr Lammy said he did “not recognise a caricature of a significant risk across Britain”.
But he added: “We do recognise that threat levels have been raised and that this is an extremely serious issue and that there are particular institutions – and those institutions are aware of this because we have brought it to their attention – where the risk is greater and those institutions are working very closely with the police and are working closely with Special Branch and those institutions (police and Special Branch) are present on campus.”
The Government refused to be drawn on which universities had been identified or the number of institutions with tightened security.
In the past, Prof Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, has suggested as many as 24 institutions may have been infiltrated by extremists. The Government has denied the claims.
Vice-chancellors announced last month they were establishing a panel to look at how universities can take action to prevent violent extremism while protecting freedom of speech.